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Chinese Medicine and Headaches Basics

Headaches are a common complaint with a host of potential causes and culprits. From excess stress to hormones to improper diet and beyond, finding the cause and root of the headaches is key to reducing the frequency and intensity of headaches naturally.

Heat: The head is the uppermost part of the body, making it particularly vulnerable to rising heat, tension, and stress. Many Chinese medicine remedies focus on reducing the strain on the head with cooling herbs that bring energy to the lower parts of the body.

Stagnation: Stagnation is present in any pain condition, including migraines and headaches. Stagnation occurs when the flow of blood and qi in the body is disrupted, causing a backup similar to traffic on a busy road. This leads to pain as some tissues are overloaded with too much qi and blood and others are deprived of the nutrients they need. In all headache formulas, herbs are used to enhance the flow of qi and blood and reduce pain.

Imbalance: Imbalances in yin and yang, heat and cold, and even hormones can cause recurrent headaches. In order to heal the body and prevent migraines, we must re-establish a healthy balance.

Major Organ Systems and Relationship to Headaches:

Liver: The Liver is often involved in pre-menstrual headaches, stress headaches, vertex headaches (the top of the head), or eye-strain headaches.

Urinary Bladder: The Urinary Bladder channel flows from the eyes, across the top of the head, to the neck, and down the back. Headaches that occur on the forehead or stem from the nape of the neck to the occipital region of the head are often related to the Urinary Bladder channel. This channel is also involved in headaches due to the common cold.

Gallbladder: The Gallbladder channel zigzags along the sides of the head and is often involved in headaches that occur on one side or another. The Gallbladder may also be involved in headaches due to improper diet or stress.

Common Headache Treatments in Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine often uses a combination of acupuncture and herbal medicine to treat recurrent headaches. During a current headache, acupuncture can be used to unblock tension and stagnation in the head to release pain. Acupuncture can also help to balance hormones and relieve stress to prevent headaches in the future. If the headaches are structural (due to posture or muscle tension), medical massage called tui na is used, as well as topical herbal liniments like Po Sum On.  As with most health conditions, proper diet and exercise is recommended for a well-rounded approach to reducing headaches.

Chinese Herbal Formulas for Migraines and Headaches

Herbal medicine for headaches focuses on the root cause of the headaches. When hormone imbalance is the culprit, herbs that balance hormones and improve proper blood flow are often used. Headaches with a root in stress and inflammation will benefit from herbs that reduce the effects of stress, calm the mind, and have anti-inflammatory properties. For headaches that result from sinus infections, colds, or weather, herbal formulas can help to relieve tension, regulate body temperature, reduce congestion and pain, and boost the immune system.

A sampling formulas to address headaches:

Chuan Xiong Wan (Ligusticum Teapills): Useful for headaches and migraines, especially those associated with catching cold or flu.

Yan Hu Suo Zhi Tong Wan (Great Cordyalis Teapills): a two-herb formula that acts like a herbal aspirin to relieve pain from stagnation of qi and blood (the source of all pain according to TCM– including headaches).

Tian Ma Teapills: This formula is specifically recommended for those with chronic/recurring headaches (pounding, tension, and migraine headaches to give a few examples) with dizziness & vertigo that are rooted in deficiency.

Luo Bu Ma Wan (Dogbane Combo): addresses headaches associated with hypertension.

Long Dan Xie Gan Wan: This formula clears heat from the Liver channel; among the symptoms it addresses is stress headaches possibly associated with hypertension.

Special Herbs for Headaches

The following are important herbs used in our popular headache formulas.

Chuan Xiong/ Ligusticum chuanxiong: Chuan xiong is a famous herb known for tackling headaches. This warm, pain-relieving herb is usually used in formulas that treat headaches due to colds or PMS.

Dang Gui/ Angelica root: Dang gui is a commonly used herb due to its ability to both nourish and move the blood. This is particularly helpful in cases where migraines are caused by hormone imbalance, menstrual irregularities, anxiety, and stress.

Chai Hu/Bupleurum root: Chai hu is a famous herb known for addressing issues like migraines because of its tendency to relieve stagnation in the head.

Shop our Collection of Herbal Formulas for Headaches and Migraines

Migraines can be debilitating and frustrating to treat. Fortunately, Chinese herbal medicine has been successfully treating headaches and migraines for centuries with time-tested formulas that stop pain. Shop our collection of Chinese herbal formulas that help reduce and prevent headaches and migraines.